Marketing Campaign Case Studies

Saturday, February 23, 2008


Anheuser-Busch Companies, Inc., had the two best-selling beers in the United States in 2000 as well as more than double the market share of any competitor. The company’s flagship brew, Budweiser, remained the country’s most popular alcoholic beverage despite a decadelong decline in sales. Bud Light had meanwhile been making double-digit percentage gains in sales and was poised to overtake the ‘‘King of Beers,’’ thanks to the growing consumer preference for reduced-calorie beer. Anheuser-Busch maintained its market dominance in part by consistently setting the standard for beer advertising.
After assuming responsibility for advertising for the Bud family of brands in 1994, August A. Busch IV (son of August A. Busch III, the company’s CEO) made it a priority to update Bud’s image for a new generation of beer drinkers. Anheuser-Busch advertising, under Busch and marketing executive Bob Lachky, increasingly relied on irreverent, ironic humor to appeal to younger segments of its legal-drinking-age audience. Although radio had become an afterthought for many advertisers by the late 1990s, Anheuser-Busch continued to explore the medium’s possibilities. In keeping with the tone of a mid-1990s radio campaign and Bud Light’s consistently popular television campaigns, Anheuser-Busch unveiled a tongue-in-cheek series of radio spots called ‘‘Real American Heroes,’’ which parodied beer advertisements of previous decades. Anheuser-Busch spent a reported $4 million on the radio campaign in 2002.
The ‘‘Real American Heroes’’ campaign made a bigger splash than many believed possible for a radio effort. Renamed ‘‘Real Men of Genius’’ after September 11, 2001, the campaign ran successfully for years, earning dozens of awards from the advertising industry while building a dedicated base of fans. ‘‘Real Men of Genius’’ made the rare leap from radio to television in 2003. Though the television commercials were likewise well regarded, the campaign returned exclusively to radio the following year.

In the 1970s and 1980s top American brewers marketed their beers by appealing to consumers’ affection for the blue-collar American workingman. Classic slogans such as ‘‘Miller Time’’ and ‘‘This Bud’s for You’’ suggested that hardworking men deserved a quality beer at the end of the day and that, moreover, the ‘‘regular guy’’ was a hero deserving of recognition. Anthemic music and patriotic undercurrents were used to enhance the sincere, heroic tone of these commercials, and the formula proved successful until the early 1990s.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, however, Anheuser-Busch had an aging base of consumers, and younger drinkers were perceived as unresponsive to commercials that saluted such straightforward values as patriotism and hard work. Anheuser-Busch sought to update its products for a new generation. The sincere statement ‘‘This Bud’s for You’’ gave way, in the mid-1990s, to less traditional ideas, such as the Budweiser frogs and lizards, as well as Bud Light creative, including ‘‘Ladies Night,’’ ‘‘Yes I Am!’’ and ‘‘I Love You, Man.’’ These campaigns helped ‘‘make the 25-year-old believe that Budweiser spoke their language,’’ according to Anheuser-Busch’s Lachky.
Also in the mid-1990s Anheuser-Busch supported the Bud Light brand with a popular series of over-thetop radio commercials narrated by Charlton Heston. The Heston spots, according to Lachky, ‘‘carved out an area attached to the brand that was very fun, very young, very cut through.’’ As the Heston campaign wound down, Anheuser-Busch commissioned Bud Light lead agency DDB Worldwide Chicago to come up with a replacement radio campaign.

The focus of Anheuser-Busch’s marketing efforts during this time was 21- to 27-year-old drinkers, a segment of the population that consumed more beer per capita than other age groups and had not yet formed strict brand allegiances. Like preceding Anheuser-Busch campaigns of the 1990s, ‘‘Real American Heroes’’ used ironic humor to reach its core audience. Beyond simply appealing to this audience’s tastes, however, the radio spots capitalized on the younger market’s wariness of traditional advertising techniques by mocking the sincere ‘‘work-reward’’ campaigns of the 1970s and 1980s. Using dramatic rock music and authoritative voice-overs that explicitly recalled those earlier campaigns, ‘‘Real American Heroes’’ sarcastically extolled the virtues of ‘‘heroes’’ like Mr. Bowling Shoe Giver Outer, Mr. Garden Gnome Maker, and Mr. Jelly Donut Filler.
The campaign eventually made its way onto television (after having been renamed ‘‘Real Men of Genius’’), but many of the spots were particularly suited to a radio audience because they created, as Lachky told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a ‘‘theater of the mind’’ that activated the consumer’s imagination. Though the spots mocked supposed everyday heroes, they were similar to the classic work-reward campaigns in that they were meant to reflect listeners’ ordinary observations and personal experience. ‘‘Everybody has got their quirks,’’ Lachky said, ‘‘and everybody has probably been a ‘Real Man of Genius.’’’ Supplementing Bud Light’s brand strategy via radio campaigns became increasingly sensible, in Anheuser-Busch’s view, because of the rise of cable television and the resulting fragmentation of the network viewing audience. Additionally Anheuser-Busch was able to place many of its radio spots locally as well as nationally. This benefited wholesalers, who needed to be able to respond to varying local conditions. Further, television viewing traditionally dropped off significantly during the summer months, the time of year when consumers drank the most beer. Radio allowed Anheuser-Busch to reach otherwise unreachable segments of its audience, including those who were traveling or engaging in leisure activities away from their televisions.

Though Miller Brewing Company remained Anheuser-Busch’s nearest rival, its market share had been decreasing for years, and its leading product, Miller Lite, was likewise losing market share when Bud Light’s ‘‘Real American Heroes’’ campaign broke. Miller’s advertising campaigns had been partially blamed for these declines. Miller Lite’s ‘‘Dick’’ campaign, which ran on television in 1997 and 1998 and consisted of a series of absurdist vignettes supposedly dreamed up by a fictional advertising copywriter named Dick, attracted attention for its unpredictability and humor but did little to promote the beer itself. After abandoning ‘‘Dick,’’ Miller Lite struggled to find new, compelling themes in its advertisements. In 2002, after being purchased by South Africa Breweries, Miller began using taste-test commercials claiming that Miller Lite outperformed Bud Light, and in 2004 Miller Lite began to make up ground against Bud Light and Coors Light by positioning itself, amid the low-carbohydrate diet craze, as a lower-carb alternative to its rivals.
The Adolph Coors Company, a distant third in the American beer wars, increased its market share in the late 1990s, and its leading product, Coors Light, had by 2001 surpassed Miller Lite to become the country’s third most popular beer (and second most popular light beer). Coors Light’s multiyear ‘‘Beer Man’’ television campaign, focusing on ballpark vendors, was seen by many wholesalers as a refreshing real-life contrast to campaigns like the Budweiser lizards and Miller Lite’s ‘‘Dick.’’

Extending the tone of the Heston radio campaign and directly parodying Anheuser-Busch’s own ‘‘This Bud’s for You’’ concept, DDB’s creative team singled out ‘‘regular guys’’ in overlooked jobs or with comical foibles, ‘‘people who just need to be called out to take a bow for whatever reason,’’ as agency creative director John Immesoete said, and began scripting music-based mock tributes to them. For the commercials’ sound track, DDB commissioned Chicago-based Scandal Music to compose a comically overblown 1980s song similar to the Survivor hit ‘‘Eye of the Tiger,’’ and David Bickler, who had himself been Survivor’s lead singer, was hired to do a bombastic parody of his own vocal work. After a lengthy search DDB hired announcer Pete Stacker, whose experience included traditional beer advertising, to do voice-over for the spots. The lyrics, sung in dramatic fashion by Bickler, worked in counterpoint to Stacker’s deadpan baritone voice-over, and a portrait of each ‘‘hero’’ emerged against the background of soaring music. Anheuser-Busch was uncertain, in the beginning, about the extreme sarcasm of the commercials. ‘‘But we ran them past the consumer,’’ Lachky told Adweek, ‘‘and they were a home run.’’
The initial series of 12 ‘‘Real American Heroes’’ spots attracted fans almost immediately. Radio personality Howard Stern lauded them on the air, and websites devoted to the jingles’ lyrics began appearing. Tape recordings of the spots showed up for sale at the online auction site eBay, and ‘‘Real American Heroes,’’ along with Budweiser’s famous ‘‘Whassup?!’’ television commercials (also created by DDB Worldwide Chicago), began to dominate the awards circuit. The radio commercials were likewise popular with Anheuser-Busch executives and distributors, and DDB was told to ‘‘keep ‘em coming,’’ according to Immesoete. Another 17 spots followed the original 12. With the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, however, the premise of mocking American heroes suddenly seemed questionable, and the spots were pulled from circulation. The campaign reemerged in early 2002 as ‘‘Real Men of Genius.’’ The continuing success of ‘‘Real Men of Genius’’ led Anheuser-Busch to commission the campaign’s adaptation for a 2003–04 television run. The move was seen as risky, even though similar Anheuser-Busch spots had already aired on British TV. The spots’ success in the United States had depended, until then, on allowing the consumer to visualize the characters being parodied via song and voice-over. As DDB’s Bob Winter told Adweek, ‘‘It was hard to think of how to do it visually on TV.’’ The initial spots adapted included ‘‘Mr. Way Too Much Cologne Wearer,’’ ‘‘Mr. Foot Long Hot Dog Inventor,’’ and ‘‘Mr. Really Bad Toupee Wearer’’ and appeared on programs such as Saturday Night Live and Monday Night Football. A ‘‘Real Men of Genius’’ commercial likewise made it onto Anheuser-Busch’s famously competitive Super Bowl roster, and the television campaign was, like its radio counterpart, a favorite on the awards circuit. Anheuser-Busch decided early on, however, to limit the number of TV adaptations. ‘‘Sometimes the best ideas are [best] left alone in the medium where they flourish,’’ Lachky told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
The spots continued on radio. In 2004 the number of spots produced since the campaign’s inception surpassed 100, and in Anheuser-Busch’s view the potential to extend the idea was still endless.

DDB Worldwide Chicago originally envisioned using a Bette Midler song like ‘‘The Wind Beneath My Wings’’ for the sound track to the ‘‘Real American Heroes’’ commercials. But the rights to Midler’s songs proved prohibitively expensive, and the Midler music did not work well in test runs. DDB’s creative team began, instead, to lean toward a 1980s anthem-rock sound along the lines of Survivor’s ‘‘Eye of the Tiger.’’ The agency hired Chicago’s Scandal Music to do an original parody of that sound, and it happened that Scandal’s owner, Sandy Torano, was a friend of Survivor’s lead singer, David Bickler. Far from being offended at the suggestion that he mock someone like himself, Bickler embraced the role. Indeed Bickler had long enjoyed a career not just as a rock star but as an ad pitchman, with singing credits that included a Kentucky Fried Chicken ‘‘Finger Lickin’ Good’’ spot, a Frosted Flakes commercial, and work for Sprite’s ‘‘Uncola’’ campaign. In TV versions of the ‘‘Real Men of Genius’’ spots, Bickler was shown wearing an unflattering wig and pumping his fists triumphantly while singing. ‘‘That’s part of my role, to provide that exclamation point,’’ he told USA Today. ‘‘I get into the spirit. I want it to be as good as it could be.’’

In addition to exceeding 100 spots, the ‘‘Real American Heroes/Real Men of Genius’’ campaign earned more than 100 advertising awards. The radio campaign won the top Radio-Mercury Award two years in a row, the 2003 Grand Clio, and numerous other Clio, ADDY, Kinsale, One Show, and ANDY awards. The television campaign won a Gold Lion at the International Advertising Festival in Cannes, France. Numerous websites devoted to lyrics and MP3 recordings of the commercials could be found on the Internet throughout the campaign’s run. In 2003 and 2004 Anheuser-Busch released two volumes of official compact disc recordings of selected spots along with bonus tracks of unreleased spots. The campaign was credited with raising the profile of radio advertising as a whole.
In 2001 Bud Light, overtaking Budweiser in sales for the first time, became the number one beer in America. Continuing to dominate the domestic beer market, Anheuser-Busch had approached a market share of 50 percent by 2001 and held steady at that unprecedented level in following years. ‘‘We knew we had a winner with the ‘Real Men of Genius’ campaign early on,’’ Lachky told PR Newswire, ‘‘but the popularity and longevity of the series has exceeded our expectations and provided a fantastic promotional opportunity for Bud Light.’’


RĂ©ka said...

Thank you very much, its a really useful post, I've used it for my Extended Essay!

Craig said...
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Senor Slender said...

hey, this is a great page. i'm trying to reflect on the Real Men of Genius advertising campaign for a section of my final essay in one of my classes. what is the source from which you got all this information? thanks a lot for any help